If millennials are to fulfill their promise as an engaged, educated and service-oriented generation, they will first have to overcome a unique set of challenges—such as the previous generations’ inability to keep up with them.
“Government is behind the business community, [and the] business community is behind this new generation and how quickly they adapt,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., speaking at a National Journal-Atlantic “New America” forum underwritten by Microsoft. “This new generation wants to move very quickly, and we’re not keeping pace.”
The challenge of finding millennials’ role—and providing them the opportunities to fill it—is a tricky one, added Univision’s León Krauze. “What is the country doing for millennials? The answer is not enough,” Krauze said. “There is a danger of generational frustration in the United States. … The millennial generation offers us more questions than answers right now.”
But what we do know about millennials is promising, said Becerra, citing his own daughter’s eagerness to rally for marriage equality. The generation’s willingness to be active on political issues bodes well for its ability to exact change. For Becerra, that change looks something like a progressive wish list. He cited gay marriage, immigration reform, and climate change as issues where millennial pressure will force policy shifts. “The millennial generation is not stuck up with the taboos of older generations,” he said.
Still, that engagement on individual issues is not always coupled with high voting turnout or other traditional forms of political activity. Millennials, Becerra said, need to get involved in that part of the process as well if they want to see progress. “You begin to realize that you can’t just escape what’s going on in the world by just saying, ‘a pox on all of you [politicians],’” he said. As for who’s making millennials so disillusioned with government, Becerra had a simple answer: the tea party.
The generation’s promise for politics, however, is tempered with some very immediate challenges economically. The still-struggling job market offers fewer opportunities than previous generations had when they joined the workforce. Many of the panelists at the forum, which was held at California State University, Los Angeles, said the solution is better education, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “Right now we are failing our own kids,” said state Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Calif., arguing schools need to offer better opportunities for outside-the-classroom learning activities.
Another of the generation’s traits—adaptability—may come in handy if local job prospects don’t materialize, said Dr. Emily Allen, dean of the school’s College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology.
“[Millennials] need to be more flexible and follow the jobs around to some extent,” she said.
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